Movie Review: The Endless Summer (1966) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “E” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “E” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Title: The Endless Summer
Release Date: June 15, 1966
Director: Bruce Brown
Production Company: Cinema V

The Endless Summer is one of those movies I’ve heard about being a classic for years and years, but never really thought what it was about.  Surfing, obviously, but there’s more of a plot to this documentary than I realized.  The first ten minutes of the movie introduces us to a number of surfers in California and Hawaii and educates the audience on the types of surfing, types of boards, and the standard surfing maneuvers.  The movie transitions into a travelogue of sorts as we follow two surfers – Mike Hynson and Robert August – as they travel around the world looking for warm air and warm waters in pursuit of the endless summer.

The tour brings the duo to Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii.  Bruce Brown filmed the adventures with a 16 mm camera and provides the sardonic narration.  We never hear Hynson and August speak, nor anyone else who appears in the film, presumably because Brown did not have adequate audio equipment.  Nevertheless, the visuals are magnificent, and Brown obviously put a lot of effort into setting up establishing shots, capturing sunsets and scenery, and making the surf scenes dynamic and immersive.

In the opening sequence, it was obvious that surfing at the time was the province of young, white men.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse the narration that Brown provides for the scenes in Africa that rely on racial stereotypes of “the natives.”  It’s positively cringe-worthy, and even worse Brown edited in a scene of an actor in black face chasing Hynson and August through the “jungle” (actually some woods in California).  It’s sad because the footage of the two Americans showing Ghanaian children how to surf is actually a great moment of cultural exchange. Later in the film when they meet women surfers it’s used as an excuse to make gags about men looking at their bodies.

You may be reading this and thinking that it’s just a fun surfing movie and I shouldn’t be bringing politics into it.  But the action of traveling around the world is an inherently political action and privilege allows the filmmaker to decide what they will and will not include.  The Kennedy assassination occurred during their travels and is not mentioned.  It’s also not mentioned that one of the surfers was using the trip to avoid draft board notices that could’ve had him traveling to Vietnam. South African Apartheid is not acknowledged except in a one-liner about “sharks not integrating with dolphins.” The whole process of claiming and naming surf spots in this film has an air of colonialism.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

The film is educational in the ways of surfing, especially the opening segments and footage from California and Hawaii intercut into the travel narrative.  By the time Hynson and August discover “the perfect wave” at Cape St. Francis in South Africa, I understood what the qualities were that made it so ideal for surfing.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Read a quirky horror novella about surfers in New Jersey called High Tide by Tom Bruno.

.Source:  Amazon Prime Video

Rating: **1/2

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Endless Summer (1966) #atozchallenge

  1. Hmm, I might watch this. Being an East Coaster, I’m not really all that familiar with the surf lifestyle. We have beaches but the waves are generally less intense.


  2. Hi Liam,
    You raise some interesting points there about how to respond to such cultural time pieces. While a film about the fun and thrills of surfing represents almost the antithesis of your more realist documentary, it could have touched on some of the political events you mentioned, especially as an American film. Having black face in the movie as late as 1966 is a concern for me. I found out that ancestors of mine performed in minstrel shows here in Australia which I don’t think had black face but weren’t that far removed from it either. My relatives were also mixing with African Americans in NZ during the gold rushes and I think might have been performing alongside them as well. It gets tricky.
    However, after seeing the shorts of the film, I do feel like seeing it. We live a stone throw to the beach and I’ve only ever surfed twice but the beach is definitely in my blood. I could fancy myself as a surfer in my dream.
    Great post!
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

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